Evidence regarding the health benefits of carotenoids is controversial. Effects of serum carotenoids and their interactions on mortality have not been examined in a representative sample of US adults. The objective was to examine whether serum carotenoid concentrations predict mortality among US adults. The study consisted of adults aged ≥20 years enrolled in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988 to 1994, with measured serum carotenoids and mortality follow-up through 2006 (N = 13,293). Outcomes were all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality. In adjusted Cox proportional hazards models, participants in the lowest total carotenoid quartile (<1.01 μmol/L) had significantly higher all-cause mortality (mortality rate ratio, 1.38; 95% confidence interval, 1.15-1.65; P = .005) than those in the highest total carotenoid quartile (>1.75 μmol/L). For α-carotene, the highest quartile (>0.11 μmol/L) had the lowest all-cause mortality rates (P < .001). For lycopene, the middle 2 quartiles (0.29-0.58 μmol/L) had the lowest all-cause mortality rates (P = .047). Analyses with continuous carotenoids confirmed associations of serum total carotenoids, α-carotene, and lycopene with all-cause mortality (P < .001). In a random survival forest analysis, very low lycopene was the carotenoid most strongly predictive of all-cause mortality, followed by very low total carotenoids. α-Carotene/β-cryptoxanthin, α-carotene/lutein+zeaxanthin and lycopene/lutein+zeaxanthin interactions were significantly related to all-cause mortality (P < .05). Low α-carotene was the only carotenoid associated with cardiovascular disease mortality (P = .002). No carotenoids were significantly associated with cancer mortality. Very low serum total carotenoid, α-carotene, and lycopene concentrations may be risk factors for mortality, but carotenoids show interaction effects on mortality. Interventions of balanced carotenoid combinations are needed for confirmation.
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